Trees deliver more wood thanks to genetics
GENETIC MODIFICATION MAY BE A DIRTY word among the greenies but improving the genes of our trees has already delivered bumper benefits over the years.
It’s just had to be done using natural techniques instead of artificial gene manipulation or through the transferring of ‘alien’ genes into the host because GM and even gene editing are banned here.
New Zealand is leading the world in the use of natural genetic science to improve the quality and growth of our most important plantation tree, Radiata Pine, including being the first to map its complete dna.
Scion researchers, Dr Heidi Dungey and Dr John Moore, told the 2018 Forest Growers Research conference in Tauranga last month that genetics has already helped to deliver a 30% improvement in the growth and wood properties of Radiata. And there’s much more to come.
The next step, they say, is in the use of genomic selection to help speed up the delivery of genetically improved trees, which will derive greater gains in the future.
Genomics is the science of understanding, interpreting and harnessing the dna code to create better solutions.
Dr Dungey believes it would be possible to know within 9 years the potential of a new tree clone, instead of the current waiting time of 17 years, roughly halving the time. So new, improved trees can be brought to market speedier, she says.
Using this technique will lead to greater gains in wood quality in future trees, improving their density and stiffness, as well as increasing their growth rate so that they mature at a younger age than current trees.
Scion will be using the genomics approach as part of its Radiata Pine Breeding Company programme over the next two years, utilising a world-leading SNP Chip technology that will allow it to genotype 20,000 individual trees.
More improvements could be on the horizon. Dr Moore says that while legitimate techniques, such as gene editing, which is claimed to be totally safe and could help to speed up the development of improved trees even further, are unable to be used at present the Scion team is looking at other genetic tools.
He says some of the traits that will need to be developed in future are trees that can deal better with climate change, with a particular emphasis on engineering drought resilience.
Genomics is helping tree scientists to produce better Radiata Pines.